Sexuality and Buddhism: Wikis


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Most variations of Buddhism do not go much into details of right and wrong regarding sexuality and other activities of life. The historical Buddha advised his students to avoid sexual misconduct, but at the same time largely avoided to define how to have sex. The interpretation of sexual misconduct will thus vary between the different schools and traditions, the cultures and even between individual teachers within the respective traditions.

Another variation in the view of sexuality is dependent if the Buddhist practitioner is an ordained monk or nun, since monastic Buddhism has very strict regulation regarding celibacy. Lay Buddhists do not have these regulations, since sex is a very natural part of having a life in society with family and children. In Vajrayana, sexual intercourse can even be a part of the way to enlightenment, the goal of Buddhism.


Celibacy and monasticism

Those who choose to practice Buddhism as ordained monks and nuns, also chose to live in celibacy.[1] Sex is the downfall that could end a monk or nun’s career, and seen as the most serious monastic transgression. There are four principal transgressions: sex, theft, murder, and boasting of superhuman perfections, where sex is listed first[2]. Sexual misconduct for monks and nuns even include masturbation.[3] In the case of monasticism, chastity is seen as a necessity in order to reach the goal.

Lay Buddhism

The most common formulation of Buddhist ethics are the Five Precepts and the Eightfold Path, which say that one should neither be attached to nor crave sensual pleasure. These precepts take the form of voluntary, personal undertakings, not divine mandate or instruction. The third of the Five Precepts is "To refrain from committing sexual misconduct.[4] However, the "sexual misconduct" is such a broad term, and is subjected to interpretation relative to the social norms of the followers. In fact, Buddhism in its fundamental form, does not define what is right and what is wrong in absolute terms for lay followers. Therefore the interpretation of what kinds of sexual activity is acceptable for a layperson, is not a religious matter as far as Buddhism is concerned.


The second of the Four Noble Truths states that the ultimate cause of all suffering is attachment and unquenchable desire (tanha), and the third states that the way to eliminate suffering is to eliminate attachment and desire. Sexual practices (heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality or others) are characterised as both attachment (kama-upadana) and desire (kama-tanha). Sensual desire (kama-cchanda) is also the first of the Five Hindrances, which must be eradicated if one is to progress spiritually. Of the three kinds of cchanda, kama-cchanda is the one that is ethically immoral.

Sexual Yoga

According to some Tibetan authorities, the physical practice of sexual yoga is necessary at the highest level for the attainment of Buddhahood.[5] The use of sexual yoga is highly regulated. It is only permitted after years of training.[6] The physical practice of sexual yoga is extremely rare, and has been historically.[7] A great majority of Tibetans believe that the only proper practice of tantric texts is metaphorically, not physically, in rituals and during meditative visualizations[7]. The dominant Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism holds that sexual yoga as an actual physical practice is the only way to attain Buddhahood in one lifetime. The founder of the sect Tsongkhapa did not, according to tradition, engage in this practice, but instead attained complete enlightenment at the moment of death, that being according to this school the nearest possible without sexual yoga. The school also taught that they are only appropriate for the most elite practitioners, who had directly realized emptiness and who had unusually strong compassion. The next largest school in Tibet, the Nyingma, holds that this is not necessary to achieve Buddhahood in one lifetime. [8] The fourteenth Dalai Lama of the Gelug sect, holds that the practice should only be done as a visualization.[7] Shingon, along with all non-tantric forms of Buddhism, does not recognize sexual yoga.


Asian societies shaped by Buddhist traditions take a strong ethical stand in human affairs and sexual behavior in particular. However, unlike most other world religions, most variations of Buddhism do not go into details about what is right and what is wrong in what it considers mundane activities of life. Details of accepted or unaccepted human sexual conduct are not specifically mentioned in any of the religious scriptures in the Pali language. The most common formulations of Buddhist ethics are found the Five Precepts and the Eightfold Path, which state that one should neither be attached to nor crave sensual pleasure. These precepts take the form of voluntary, personal undertakings, not divine mandate or instruction. The third of the Five Precepts is "To refrain from committing sexual misconduct.[4]. However, "sexual misconduct" is a broad term, and is subject to interpretation relative to the social norms of the followers. In fact, Buddhism in its fundamental form does not define what is right and what is wrong in absolute terms for lay followers. Therefore the determination of whether or not homosexuality is acceptable for a layperson is not a religious matter as far as fundamental Buddhism is concerned.

Among Buddhists there is a wide diversity of opinion about homosexuality. Buddhism teaches that sensual enjoyment and desire in general, and sexual pleasure in particular, are hindrances to enlightenment.[9] Buddhist monks and nuns of most traditions are expected to refrain from all sexual activity and take vows of celibacy. Some Buddhist orders may specifically prohibit transgender, homosexually active, or homosexually oriented people from ordination but accept homosexuality among laypersons.


In Thailand, traditional accounts propose that "homosexuality arises as a karmic consequence of violating Buddhist proscriptions against heterosexual misconduct. These karmic accounts describe homosexuality as a congenital condition which cannot be altered, at least in a homosexual person's current lifetime, and have been linked with calls for compassion and understanding from the non-homosexual populace."[10]

There are two broad schools of thought on homosexuality are current among contemporary Thai Buddhist writers, one accepting, the other unaccepting. [10] AIDS in the 1980s brought about a shift of perception in Thailand regarding homosexuals, with a shift in Buddhist attitudes from relative tolerance of homosexuality to condemnation.[10] Since 1989 gays are prohibited from being ordained.[11]

Dalai Lama

The current Dalai Lama interprets sexual misconduct to include lesbian and gay sex, and indeed any sex other than penis-vagina intercourse, including oral sex, anal sex, and masturbation.[12]

Western Buddhism

Western Buddhism is often relatively gay-friendly, and the interpretation of what is sexual misconduct is an individual decision and not subject to judgement by any central authority, a view of accepting all peoples, but rejecting certain types of sexual acts is more predominant.

When applying buddhist philosophy to the question of homosexuality, western Buddhists often emphasize the importance the Buddha placed on tolerance, compassion, and seeking answers within one's self.

See also

External references


  1. ^ Saddhatissa, Hammalawa (December 1987). Buddhist Ethics: The Path to Nirvana. Wisdom Pubns; New Ed edition. pp. 88. ISBN 0-8617-1053-3.  
  2. ^ Lopez, Donald S. Critical Terms for the Study of Buddhism. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 2005
  3. ^ Olson, Carl. The Different Paths of Buddhism: A Narrative-Historical Introduction. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 2005
  4. ^ a b Higgins, Winton. "Buddhist Sexual Ethics". BuddhaNet Magazine. Retrieved 2007-01-15.  
  5. ^ Routledge Encyclopedia of Buddhism, page 781
  6. ^ Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 2000, page 142. [1]
  7. ^ a b c Thomas Laird, The Story of Tibet. Grove Press, 2006, page 81. [2]
  8. ^ Routledge Encyclopedia of Buddhism, page 781; the briefer statement in this article by Powers should be understood in the light of his fuller statement in his book Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, Snow Lion, 1995, pages 252f
  9. ^ See Religion and sexuality#Buddhist views of sex and morality
  10. ^ a b c Jackson, Peter (1995). Thai Buddhist accounts of male homosexuality and AIDS in the 1980s. The Australian Journal of Anthropology, Vol.6 No.3, Pp.140–153. December 1995. Text online
  11. ^ Khamhuno. 1989 (B.E. 2532). Gay Praakot Nai Wongkaan Song ("Gays Appear in Sangha Circles"). Sangkhom Saatsanaa (Religion and Society Column). Siam Rath Sut-sapdaa (Siam Rath Weekly), November 18, 1989 (B.E. 2532). 36 (22):37–38.
  12. ^ "Even with your wife, using one's mouth or the other hole is sexual misconduct. Using one's hand, that is sexual misconduct." (Dalai Lama, at a meeting with lesbian and gay Buddhists, June 11, 1997). Reported widely, including in: Dalai Lama Speaks on Gay Sex - He says it's wrong for Buddhists but not for society. By Don Lattin, Chronicle Religion Writer, Tuesday, June 11, 1997, San Francisco Chronicle. Text online; Dalai Lama urges 'respect, compassion, and full human rights for all,' including gays, by Dennis Conkin, Bay Area Reporter, June 19, 1997. Text online; Dalai Lama says 'oral and anal sex' not acceptable, Jack Nichols, May 13, 1997. Text online

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